Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a difficult passage of Scripture to understand. Bible scholars who hold to varied ideologies about the status of women in marriage and in the Church all agree that Paul’s intent here is difficult, if not impossible, to determine with a degree of certainty. It is unclear what Paul is referring to in some verses. And in other verses Paul seems to contradict what he has previously written.

N.T. Wright (in the video at the bottom of this article) makes several statements about this passage which he prefaces with the word “perhaps”.  Similarly, I would like to make it clear that my offering to the discussion of what 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 might mean is also prefaced by an overarching “perhaps”.

I suggest that a key to understanding 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is to recognise its chiastic structure.[1] I believe that Paul begins chapter 11 by making basic statements about men and women, and about the state of their head and hair while praying and prophesying. These statements may represent what the Corinthian Christians believed to be true. They may even have been part of the letter the Corinthians wrote to Paul, which he now quotes in verses 3-10. Paul makes these statements up until the climax, or rather the nadir, of the chiasm in verse 10.[2] After a “nevertheless” or “except that” (Greek: plēn) at the beginning of verse 11,[3] Paul reiterates what he has said, or quoted, but with more correct statements about men and women, and their head or hair, in verses 11-16.

It is important to note that Paul is not speaking about marriage in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Most English translations of this passage use the words “man/men” and “woman/women”, and not “husband/s” and “wife/wives”, to reflect this understanding.[4]

The following is 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 arranged to show the chiastic structure of this passage.

A. I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you (1 Cor 11:2).

B. Now I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.  Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head [Christ (?)]. (1 Cor 11:3-4)

C. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head [her male guardian (?)] — it is the same as having her head shaved.  For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head (1 Cor 11:5-6).

D. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man (1 Cor 11:7).  

E. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man (1 Cor 11:8-9). [More on verse 9 here.]

 X. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority upon her own head, because of the angels (1 Cor 11:10).

E2. Nevertheless (or, except that), in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God (1 Cor 11:11-12).

D2. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? (1 Cor 11:13).

B2 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him; (1 Cor 11:14)

C2 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering (1 Cor 11:15).

A2. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no such custom—nor do the churches of God (1 Cor 11:16).

Authority or Origin in 1 Corinthians 11?

In 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul states that the man is the “head” (kephalē) of the woman. Many Christians have assumed that the word kephalē has the meaning of leader or chief person, but kephalē was rarely used with these meanings in Classical and Koinē Greek.[5] The LSJ, one of the most exhaustive lexicons of Ancient Greek, including New Testament Greek, does not include any definition of kephalē that approximates leader, ruler or authority.[6]

Several New Testament scholars argue that kephalē means source or origin in 1 Corinthians 11:3. In chapter seven of his book One in Christ, Philip Payne discusses, at length, the meaning of kephalē.[7] Payne quotes from Cyril of Alexandria, from Theodore of Mopsuestia, and from Chrysostom; he also mentions Saint Basil, Athanasius, Eusebius, and Ambrosiaster. All these early church theologians and writers believed that source, and not authority, is the meaning in 1 Corinthians 11:3.

Even Hierarchical Complementarian Wayne Grudem—while maintaining that kephalē implies authority–concedes that:

“There are some texts which indicate that the physical head was thought of as the source of energy and life for the body, and therefore the possibility exists that the word kephale might have come to be used as a metaphor for ‘source’ or ‘source of life’. . .”[8]

Taking into account that kephalē probably means source in 1 Corinthians 11:3, this verse might be paraphrased and expanded as:

“But I want you to realize that the source (or origin) of every man is Christ, and the source (or origin) of [the first] woman is [the first] man, and the source (or origin) of Christ is God [or the triune Godhead].”[9]

I agree with what Gilbert Bilezikian has said on this: “The sequence that links the three clauses [of 1 Cor. 11:3] is not hierarchy but chronology. At creation, Christ was the giver of life to men as the source of the life of Adam (“by him all things were created” Col. 1:16.) In turn, man gave life to the woman as she was taken from him. Then, God gave life to the Son as he came into the world for the incarnation.” (From “I Believe in Male Headship”.)

While the first man was the source of the first woman, Paul’s real emphasis is the common origin of men and women, and the mutuality this implies, and so he wrote: “However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12). God is the ultimate source of both man and woman.[10]

Paul was not writing about male authority in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, but about the mutual interdependence between men and women.[11] In his letters, Paul never used any of the many Greek words for leadership in reference to husbands.[12] Nevertheless Paul wanted men and women to uphold some gender distinctions involving traditional hairstyles (or the covering of the head by women) when they were gathered for worship.[13] 1 Corinthians chapter 11 is about respectable appearances and behaviour during Christian worship—where women, as well as men, prayed and prophesied aloud; it is not about any kind of male leadership or authority.

When we understand that “head” (kephalē) means source or origin, Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 becomes easier to understand. What is less clear is what Paul means with his comments about hairstyles and covering the head.

Headcoverings or Hairstyles in 1 Corinthians 11?

For centuries, most churches used 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 10 to teach that women needed to cover their heads in church meetings. Yet very few churches acknowledged the rest of 1 Corinthians 11:5 were it indicates that women prayed and prophesied aloud in church meetings. Christians were, and can be, very selective about what portions of Scripture they want to heed and what parts they want to ignore. In most churches, women were forbidden from speaking but still had to cover their head. In some churches today, gifted Christian women are still forbidden from some speaking ministries.

Despite the common assumption that Paul was instructing women to cover their heads, there is no word for veil or hat, etc, in the Greek of this passage. Paul does, however, speak about hair as a covering. Many modern Bible scholars, such as Jerome Murphy O’Connor, now believe that Paul was probably speaking about hairstyles, and that he wanted the Corinthians to have respectable hairstyles that were socially acceptable according to the culture of Corinth of that time.

There are some indications within First Corinthians that the Christians in Corinth thought that the Kingdom age had fully arrived and that gender distinctions were no longer important. It appears that the Corinthian Christians likened themselves to the genderless angels. But Paul wanted the Corinthians to preserve some gender distinctions. He did not want the men to have long hair or braids, which some effeminate men were wearing at the time; and he did not want the women to look like men with short hair. Or it could be that Paul did not want women to appear as though they were sexually promiscuous, with flowing unbound hair like the maenads in the worship of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. In New Testament times, a woman with either short hair or long unbound hair was making a provocative statement, and Paul did not want the Corinthians to unnecessarily behave in culturally inappropriate ways.

The numerous examples of surviving Ancient Greek artwork shows that reputable women wore their hair tied up in braids and bands, but uncovered. Greek women, especially the upper-class women were not veiled. It might be, however, that poorer women, who could not afford slaves to braid their hair into elaborate styles, wore veils. And Jewish women in Corinth may have worn veils. There is also evidence that Roman women sometimes wore veils during worship. If Paul is asking women to wear veils—even though the Greek text never states this explicitly—he may have been saying this to minimise distinctions of class and race among the women.  [My article on Paul’s Instructions for “Modest” Dress here.]

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11:15 that a woman’s hair is her covering and her glory. A woman might be the glory of man (11:7), but, when we understand 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 more accurately we see that she also has her own glory, her own covering, and her own authority upon her own head. [See endnote 11.]


The second half of the chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 contains some wonderful statements about the mutuality of men and women, but it seems that too many Christians have only read the first half and not the second. These Christians maintain that men are the leaders and authorities of women simply because the first human being was male. Paul, however, highlights that God is the source of both men and women. Paul also points out that every other man (other than the first man) came from a woman.  Mutuality, and not authority, is one of Paul’s main points in this passage.

Paul’s point about hair and heads is less clear.  Moreover the convoluted statements about the hair and heads of men and women in worship have little bearing for our society where hairstyles and head wear do not necessarily convey meaning or denote class distinctions. Hats are optional in most situations in western society and they should be optional in church meetings. Still, like Paul, we should not permit dress and behaviour in church services that is seen as improper to broader society. The way we appear and behave in church communities should not be giving the church a bad name to those outside of the church.[14]

Finally, we shouldn’t ignore that this passage mentions women praying and prophesying in church meetings. Praying is speaking to God and prophesying is speaking for God. By mentioning these two ministries, Paul may have been summing up the ministry that takes place in a worship service. Paul considered the ministry of prophesying as important and influential.  He lists prophesying and prophets before teaching and teachers in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 and Ephesians 4:11. Paul did not have a problem with godly women who prayed and prophesied in a respectable manner. [My article on Philip’s Prophesying Daughters here.]

It is tragic that Paul’s intent in 1 Corinthians 11:2ff has been misunderstood and that this passage has been used to veil women and subordinate them to men.  It is unfair that the church has concentrated on the first half of the chiasm and passed over and ignored Paul’s teaching on mutuality in the second half.


[1] A Chiasm is a literary device used in many passages of Scripture. In a chiastic structure, sentences, or even large passages, are arranged to form a X-shaped pattern. (A chi, from chiasm, is the Greek letter that looks like an X.) The thoughts are stated sequentially in one direction until a main point or climax is reached, then the thoughts are repeated in reverse order. In a chiasm, the main point is at the centre of a passage. In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, verse 10 is the climax, or nadir, of the chiasm. This verse is baffling, and has led to much conjecture.  (See endnote 2.)
1 Corinthians chapters 11-14 are themselves arranged as a chiasm with the “love” passage as the climax.
A. Order in Worship: Prophets and their hair/head (11:2-16) and the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34)
B. Spiritual Gifts and the Nature of the Body (12:1-30)
X. The Hymn to Love (12:31-14:1)
B1. Spiritual Gifts and the Building up of the Body (14:1-25)
A1. Order in Worship: Prophets and Speakers in Tongues (14:26-40)
More on this here.

[2] “Paul’s argument reaches its nadir in 11:10, where he urges that a woman should keep her head covered ‘because of the angels,’ probably a reference to the ‘sons of God’ in Gen. 6:2, who had intercourse with mortal women and fathered a race of giants. Like other Jewish writers of the period (e.g., Test. Reuben 5:6), Paul evidently fears that the angels will be aroused to lust by the sight of exposed women . . .”
L. L. Welborn, “The Corinthian Correspondence”(forthcoming).  See endnote 14 for another perspective on 1 Corinthians 11:10.

[3] According to BDAG, the Greek word plēn is an adverb used as a conjunction which comes at the beginning of a sentence or clause. It is used to mark something that is contrastingly added for consideration. It can be adversative. Or is can be used when breaking off a discussion and emphasizing what is important. Or it can be used when breaking off and passing to a new subject. 1 Corinthians 11:11 is listed in this last category. Plēn can be translated as: only, nevertheless, but, in any case, on the other hand, except that, what then will come of it, etc.
Bauer, Walter, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, revised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000) 826.  [Known as BDAG for short.]

[4] The Greek word anēr means “man” or “husband”. Context determines whether anēr should be translated as “man” or “husband”. Similarly gunē means “woman” or “wife” depending on the context. Most English Bible translations use the words “man” and “woman” in 1 Corinthians 11 because this passage is not speaking about marriage. The ESV and NRSV are exceptions, and use the words “husband” and “wife” in 1 Corinthians 11:3b. Moreover the ESV uses the word “wife” instead of “woman” in 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 also. Philip Payne has written an article which shows why “husband” and “wife” doesn’t make sense in this passage. His article is published here.

[5] The translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek Septuagint also shows that kephalē did not usually mean leader. When the Hebrew word for “head” (rosh) meant a literal head in the Old Testament, the translators translated rosh into kephalē. However, in Hebrew, like in English, “head” can also mean a leader or ruler. In the instances where rosh meant a leader, in almost all cases, the translators did not use the word kephalē in their translation, instead they used the Greek word archōn, which does mean ruler or leader.

[6] H.G. Liddel and R. Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, Ninth Edition,revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) 945.

[7] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman: One in Christ, An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 131-137.

[8] Grudem, Wayne, “The meaning of Kephalē (Head): A Response to Recent Studies” in Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Woman hood: A Response to Biblical Feminism (Wheaton, Il: Crossways, 1994) 467.

[9] If 1 Corinthians 11:3 is Paul’s teaching (and not the thoughts of the Corinthians), I suspect that he may have written 1 Corinthians 11:3 with the numerous Greek creation myths in mind.  In contrast to the various creation myths, Paul writes that all men have the one source—Christ. But woman (or at least the first woman) did come from a man (or, more precisely, the first human being.) And Christ has his source from God, that is, the Triune Godhead. The Christ is not just one emanation in a series of emanations, or just a demigod with a strange mythological creation.

[10] I personally find the use of the Greek word dia very interesting in 1 Cor 11:9 when compared with its use in 1 Cor 11:12. Dia is a preposition and its meaning depends on whether the case of the noun it refers to is in the accusative or genitive case. Dia followed by a noun in the accusative case can mean “because of”, “on account of”, “for the sake of”, etc. Only rarely does it mean “through” or “by”.  When dia is followed by a noun in the genitive case, however, it frequently means “through’ or “by”.

It sounds to me as though Paul is using very similar language to carefully craft his response to the view in 1 Cor 11:9 with his more correct view in 1 Cor 11:11-12. Paul’s use of ek (from) is also interesting. Here is a very literal (albeit awkward) translation of verses 8-12 showing the use of dia and ek:

11:8 Man is not from (ek) woman, but woman from (ek) man;

11:9  for also man was not made for the sake of  (dia with accusative) the woman,  but woman for the sake of (dia with acc.) the man

11:10 because (dia with acc.) of this, the woman has authority/ power/ freedom (exousia) on her [own] head because (dia with acc.) of the angels

11:11 except that (plēn), in the Lord, neither is a woman apart from the man, nor is a man apart from a woman.

11:12 For just as the woman is from (ek) the man, thus also the man is through (dia with genitive) the woman; but everything is from (ek) God.

[11] The word “authority” (exousia) is mentioned only once in this passage, in 1 Corinthians 11:10, where the meaning is that a woman should have her own authority, power or freedom (exousia) upon her own head. (More about the word exousia and its meaning and usage in 1 Corinthians in endnote 9 here.)
Also, there is no word for “sign” in the Greek of verse 10. Unfortunately the word “sign” has been added in some English translations, by those who think exousia is a metonym, thus altering the meaning of the verse. (More on the metonym idea, which I can’t find real evidence for, here.)
Another common mistranslation of this passage is found in 1 Corinthians 11:16.  The NASB incorrectly, and misleadingly, has “no other custom”. The correct translation is “no such custom”. By incorrectly translating toioutos as “other”, the NASB, NIV and other translations adversely affect the interpretation of the entire passage.  The NRSV and KJV translate toioutos correctly as “such” in 1 Corinthians 11:16.

[12] The word kephalē is also used in the Ephesians 5:23. This time it is used in the context of husbands and wives. But Ephesians 5:21-33 does not mention any kind of leadership from the husband, only sacrificial, nurturing love. [My article Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33 here.]

[13] L.L. Welborn states that “Paul’s argument for the maintenance of tradition (11:2) with respect to gender differences is the weakest argument in the corpus Paulinum, in that it threatens to compromise his own insight into the new social identity given in Christ (cf. Gal. 3:28).” L.L. Welborn, “The Corinthian Correspondence” (forthcoming).

[14] A different view to the one in endnote 2 is that messengers (probably household slaves) were spying on church meetings and reporting back to their masters about what happened at these meetings. It would have been important to Paul that the messengers were bringing back a good report and not describing shameful scenes. The Greek word aggelous (accusative plural of aggelos) used in 1 Corinthians 11:10 can mean “angels” or “messengers”. Usually the context shows which is the correct meaning; however the meaning here is not clear. Interestingly, the spies in James 2:25 are called aggelous (accusative plural of aggelos).

Feel free to share the following quote on social media.

1 Corinthians 11, own authority

The following video shows N.T. Wright speaking about men and women and the new creation. He also speaks about 1 Corinthians 11:2ff.  Some of his views about head coverings are slightly different to mine. For this reason (and others) my explanation of this difficult passage are prefaced with a “perhaps”.

Related Articles

1 Corinthians 11:9, in a Nutshell
Kephale and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters
Who is the “head”?
Kephale and Proto-Gnosticism in Paul’s Letters
The LSJ Definitions of Kephalē
The Complementarian Concept of the Created Order
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church

Articles about Bible passages with chiasms

Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33
The Creed of Philippians 2:6-11

Other Useful Links 

What is the meaning of “head”? By Ian Paul here.
Here are a couple of links to Philip Payne’s website. This article is about hairstyles. This article is about whether 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 refers to church meetings.

Posted November 20th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, Equality in Ministry, The "Difficult" Passages, , , , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

65 comments on “The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

  1. Susan aka Velvet Voice says:

    I love your posts! Glad to know you Margaret.

  2. Marg says:

    Thanks Susan. 🙂

  3. Don Johnson says:

    I understand things somewhat differently, altho still in an egal way.

    I do see the chiasm of chiasms that you point out and that Bailey gets slightly wrong I think.

    1 Cor 11:10 is the center and the most important verse to get correct, this is the one that is often mangled by masculinists as they misunderstand the argument and so add words to the text to make it word the way they think it must mean, according to their blue lenses. And you get this correct.

    The challenge in this verses is not that some specific thing might fit them in terms of head something (something “down from the head”), it is that multiple things might fit this concept and it is not clear to us today exactly which one or ones Paul might mean, that is, it is anything but clear to us on this aspect. We can be confident that the church at Corinth would know what Paul meant, but since we are not them, we are simply left in a state of partial ignorance, altho we can surmise that it was cultural, not creational.

    The other thing is that per Acts 21, Paul is a Torah-observant Jew, this has implications as I see it. A Jewish Nazirite took a vow not to cut their hair for a certain length of time, but if it was for a significant length of time, their hair would get long, this would be true for a man or a woman, either could take such a vow. So Paul simply could NOT be saying that long hair on a (Jewish) man was a bad thing. Also, the natural state of hair (hair in nature) is to keep growing until it falls out, again, this would tend to give long hair to either gender, so Paul cannot be saying that long hair on a (gentile) man was a bad thing either. For example, some Greek philosophers were known to grow their hair long as one indication of what they did and no one looked down on them for this. So I see that any translation that says long hair on any man (Jew or gentile) being a bad thing is simply wrong from the get go; it simply needs to be translated in some other way.

    But even given all the above, there is still a puzzle, as a man is not supposed to do the (cultural) head thing, while a woman has freedom to choose whether to do it or not. For a masculinist, I think this is not able to be solved, as the man is restricted while the woman is not. But it also poses a puzzle for the egalitarian like me.

    And I think the solution is that for a man, the head thing has only one meaning and it is one that opposes something in the faith; while for a woman the head thing has 2 possible meanings and they oppose each other. It can mean the same thing as it does for a man, but it can also mean something else that reflects on her husband in a negative way if she does NOT do the head thing, so she is put in a bind as to what to do. This is why she gets to decide which is the best way to go. And in this way Paul is still an egalitarian.

  4. Marg says:

    I agree that long hair on a Jewish man was not bad. This highlights again that Paul’s headwear/hairstyles instructions to the Christians in Corinth were very specifically cultural and are not directly applicable in our society.

    There definitely are some puzzling things in this passage.

  5. […] The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 […]

  6. […] Some in the Corinthian Church may have also believed that because the man was created first this implied male authority.  Paul corrects this faulty understanding by noting that, while the first woman did come from the first man, every other man has come from a woman.  Most importantly men and women share the same ultimate source — God himself (1 Cor 11:11).  Paul did not teach that relationships among Christians should be hierarchical, rather he advocated for mutuality and equality. […]

  7. Irunscharpnor says:

    Just one little thing I wanted to address-

    The proper translation of the last verse, verse 16, is “no SUCH custom” not “no OTHER custom”. the Greek word toioutos is always “such” never “other” in all it’s uses in Scripture.

    see for yourself: http://biblesuite.com/greek/5108.htm

    The changing of “such” to “other” is a mistranslation, just like “symbol of” instead of simply “authority” or “power” for “exousian” in verse 10. KJV has “such” as well, as does Young’s literal translation, along with many, if not most other translations. Even the ESV gets this word right, and it is very patriarchally-biased.

  8. Marg says:

    Thanks for this! I appreciate it.

    I’m familiar with toioutos, and checked 11:16 in my Greek New Testament just now. I also now recall a discussion about this mistranslation somewhere.

    You are correct: toioutos cannot mean “other”. “Other” definitely conveys a false and misleading meaning in 1 Cor 11:16.

    I had simply copied and pasted much of the passage into the article, but I have now gone and changed this word. I’ve also added a comment in the end notes.

  9. Hello – I just wanted to say that I agree with alot of what is said on this blog. However, I just wanted to point out a few differences of what I believe the 1 Corinthians 11: 3-16 passage is saying. At the beginning of your explanation of this passage you say, “And in other verses Paul seems to contradict what he has previously written.” I agree with this statement. This is why I believe that verses 4-6 are a quote of a faction of men who wrote Paul. (See 1 Cor. 11: 17-19) I believe, then, that this passage consists of three parts. They are as follows:

    Verse 3 – Paul’s model where the figurative meaning of head is “source”.
    Verses 4-6 – Paul quotes a faction of men who wrote him. (Note: The faction of men used a literal head argument which is why Paul used a figurative head argument in his model.)
    Verse 7-16 – Paul’s rebuttal and reference back to his model.

    So when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11: 7, “For a man indeed ought not to veil his head, since He is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man…” he is using Jesus Christ as an example, as a correlation, as to why women should not be veiled. Indeed, it is Jesus Christ, not man, who is the image and glory of God. (See Col. 1: 15, 2 Cor. 4: 4, Heb. 1: 3, Rev. 21: 23) Both male and female are created IN God’s image, but only Jesus Christ is the very image and glory of God. Furthermore, if Paul was talking about a man being created in God’s image in verse seven, then wouldn’t he use the same argument [of not being veiled] for women since they too are created in the image of God? However, Paul is not refering to a man in verse seven, he again is referring to Jesus Christ. When we understand that Jesus Christ is the image and glory of God and that verses 4-6 are quoted, then this passage makes complete sense and is in complete harmony with Scripture. Because the translators think that verses 4-6 are Paul’s words, they have added words to the rebuttal portion in an attempt to get it to harmonize with the quoted portion. However, in their attempt to do so, they have caused new contradictions to Scripture to appear. This is why this passage is so confusing. However, no words need to be added. Paul has made a very coherent and ingenious argument as to why women should not be veiled.

    Anyway, this is just what I believe. If you are interested, I have a more thorough explanation of this passage on my website under the Scripture Studies section. God Bless.

  10. Marg says:

    Hi Kristen, Thanks for your comment. I have heard the idea before that the “man” in verse 7 is Jesus Christ. I must admit, I can’t quite get my head around this concept. I don’t say that it’s wrong, but I can’t see it myself.

  11. Hi Marg – The “man” in verse seven is referring to “men” in general. It is the word “head” that is referring to Christ. In verse seven, when Paul says a man ought not to veil his “head” since He is the image and glory of God, he is referring back to his model where he says, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the “head” of every man”. So he is not referring to a man’s “literal head” in verse seven but his “figurative head”, Christ. What I can’t quite get my head around is the concept that a human man is the image and glory of God since the Bible no where states this.

  12. Marg says:

    Ah, gotcha. I’ll have to think about this.

    I also can’t see the Bible teaches that men, and not women, are the image and glory of God. Perhaps Paul is quoting the Corinthians in the first section of this chiasm, and correcting their faulty notions in the second half.

  13. Yes, the Bible teaches very clearly (2 Cor. 3: 18, Rom. 8: 29, 1 Cor. 15: 49, Heb. 2: 10) that both male and female will one day bear the image of the heavenly and will one day be brought to glory. If a man was already the image and glory of God, then why would the Bible say this? With all the evidence of Scripture, it is clear to me that verse seven is speaking of a man’s figurative head, Christ. And yes, as you said, Paul quotes the Corinthians in the first section (verses 4-6) and then corrects their faulty notions in the second half (verses 7-16).

  14. Kathryn Elliott Stegall says:

    Thank you for this wonderful posting and discussion!

  15. Marg says:

    Thanks Kathryn. 🙂

  16. […] Some theologians think 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 may have been written because gender distinctions were being blurred and confused in the Corinthian church.  Men were being effeminate and women were being masculine (and promiscuous.) […]

  17. Osbert says:

    This has been the bane of women active participation in some Mainline churches across the globe. I am continuing with my dissertation on the exegesis of the Pauline women silence in the churches and its sitz en leben. Is this statement not the crux of women active service both to humanity and to God their creator?
    Thank you Marg, my thesis in favour of women full service is on going and I will like to follow up additional comments on 11:2-16 and 14:33-36.

  18. Marg says:

    Hi Osbert, I wish you well in your dissertation. I’m always happy to learn more, so feel free to post follow up comments.

    You may be interested in my article on 1 Cor 14:34-35 here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

  19. […] 1 Corinthians 11:3 is not about the marriage relationship.  Most English translations use the word “man” and “woman”, rather than “husband” and “wife”, to reflect this understanding.  Nor is 1 Corinthians 11:3 about some sort of chain of command.  The use of kephalē in this verse clearly has the meaning of “source”, a fact which several early church writers attest to. […]

  20. […] I have heard even young Christian men and women quote 1 Corinthians 11:9 with a mistaken view that women were made by God for men, for the express purpose of helping men, and not vice versa.  Many Christians read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:3-9 about men and women, but fail to take into consideration Paul’s more complete and correct statement in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12.  […]

  21. […] The idea that the man is the leader or authority in marriage is based on a faulty and biased interpretation of Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3. […]

  22. […] It’s not just the theologians of the past that have got it wrong.  Just last month a woman named Nadia left a comment on my website saying that only men are the image and glory of God.  She was quoting 1 Corinthians 11:7 out of context.  [It is so important to read the whole passage of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, and not just a few verses from the first half, because it is in the second half that Paul addresses the previous statements and give balance and corrections.  More on this passage here.] […]

  23. R.J. says:

    I agree with Kristen but view 1 Corinthians 11:4-10 as a quote from a faction while 11-16 is a rebuttal to an exaggeration. Plus verse 14/15 should be translated as statements rather the questions. While verse 16 makes this issue of hair and head-coverings adiaphoristic(spelling?).

  24. Marg says:

    R.J. The passage certainly makes more sense if the first half is a quote and the second half is Paul’s response. (I start work in 10 minutes, so just leaving a short reply for now.)

  25. Hi R.J. – I’m glad that you too believe that Paul is responding to a faction of men who wrote him. However, if verses 7-10 are also part of the quote of a faction of men, then why does Paul give his model in verse 3? The word kephale (head) is found three times in verse 3, two times in verse 4, two times in verse 5, one time in verse 7 and one time in verse 10. It is not found anywhere in verses 8-16. So if verses 7-10 are part of the quote, then Paul would not be referring back to verse 3 at any point in his rebuttal.

  26. Oops, I meant to say, “It is not found anywhere in verses 11-16.”

  27. […] Our ethnicity, our level of social freedom, and our gender, etc, doesn’t change when we become Christians, but these things should not be a cause for discrimination within the church. The apostles do give instructions to slaves to be obedient to their own masters and women to be submissive to their own husbands, but often the reason given for these instructions is to avoid giving the church a bad name in a society where slaves and women were seen as lesser people than non-slaves and than men; and to aid evangelism in such a society (e.g. Titus 2:9-10; 1 Tim. 5:14; 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Cor. 11:10). [More on submission in marriage here. More on 1 Cor. 11:10 here, esp. endnote 14.] […]

  28. Adrienne says:

    how in a society of no gender distinction in outward appearance can we look like women and men look like men? we both wear pants both can have long or short hair, men in scotland where skirts( im not from there though) men and woman both wear jewlery but men wear not as much…. i dont see a mine line and im wondering do we have to make one? is it important?

    • Marg says:

      It’s the reason behind the blurring of gender distinctions that are important. From a few verses in 1 Corinthians it seems that the Christians in Corinth thought they were already living in the age described by Jesus in Luke 20:34-36.

      These Christians were abstaining from sex in marriage and ignoring gender distinctions altogether. They were even dissuading people from getting married. Paul addresses these things in 1 Cor. 7. This heresy about abstaining from marriage also comes up in 1 Timothy 4:3. (Second Clement, in the Apostolic Fathers, has an interesting passage about this too.)

      I don’t think gender distinctions has anything to do with wearing pants and jewelry, etc. In most cases we can tell who are men and women, boys and girls. But this may not have been the case in the Corinthians church.

  29. […] The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 […]

  30. […] The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16  by Marg Mowczko […]

  31. Bryn says:

    Hi Marg,

    I’ve been reading a lot of your posts in the last couple days as I try to grapple with biblical concepts of man/womanhood. I have however been deeply troubled by some of your conclusions and how hastily you arrive at them.

    In this post you very quickly arrive at the conclusion that kephale means “source”. I find this to be both a confusing interpretation of it’s usage in this passage and also not supported by it’s usage elsewhere.

    My first issue is that now the verse reads that God is the source of Christ. As we already understand Jesus submits to God’s will and rightfully obeys his headship I think we are twisting the passage considerably to make it say something different (the Trinity is the source of Christ? God the Father created Christ? Jesus is made from the Trinity?).As we already know that Christ submits to God’s authority does it not make complete sense to read the passage as God is the head of Christ, rather than source? I really do not think you can use this in the very same sentence as claiming that Eve was made from Adam. Also, from Grudem’s work and multiple Greek lexicons kephale is consistently defined as “head”. Even the LSJ only mentions “source” in two instances, one being the source of a river (aka, the top of the river, or head). Your hard work is spoiled by these hasty conclusions that the interpretation of passages is hinged upon.

    As you then say “When we understand that “head” (kephalē) means source, Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 becomes easier to understand” – I simply don’t believe that kephale does mean source, and I think you’re pleading with a minimal evidence (citing only other egal sources) that is largely unsupported by other usages of kephale. You provide no examples of kephale meaning “source” elsewhere in the Bible which I assume means there are none (otherwise they’d be demonstrated). Having read Grudem’s work also, it seems you sparingly use his quote to support your point of view whereas Grudem seems only to be making the minor consolation that kephale (while meaning head) can have some metaphorical notions of source. This is not saying kephale means “source”, but that kephale means “head” which includes at least some metaphorical notions of source.

    I think I would need much more evidence in favour of interpreting kephale as “source” rather than “head” before I read this passage in an egalitarian manner – I don’t think you’ve successfully argued this case here, and the conclusions you’ve arrived at betray a bias in interpretation of the available evidence…

    • Bryn says:

      In further reading of Chrysostom too, it seems nowhere does he endorse a reading of kephale as “source”. It seems Payne has been selective in his choice of what to anaylse in supporting his case…

    • Marg says:

      Hi Bryn,

      Kephalē does indeed mean “head” in every instance where it occurs in Greek literature. There is no doubt about that whatsoever. However, the range of metaphorical meanings of “head” in modern English is different to the range of metaphorical meanings of “head” in Ancient Greek.

      I continue to suggest that the context of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, including verse 3, is source and origin. And I do recognise that Grudem’s conclusions are different to mine.

      A while ago I spent some time scouring literature originally written in Classical and Koine Greek and I have found only one possible case where kephalē may mean leader: the second century AD Shepherd of Hermas. (There was nothing “hasty” about this search, or in what I write about kephale.) If you can show me other instances where kephalē unambiguously means leader (in untranslated Greek), I’d appreciate it.

      I agree that I have not successfully argued a case for the meaning of kephalē in this article about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. This is because I wrote about it more comprehensively in a previous article here where I provide several reasons for understanding that kephalē does not mean leader or authority.

      Here is just one reason: No king, governor, Roman centurion, Jewish leader, church leader, patriarch, parent, or any kind of worldy or religious authority figure, is ever called a kephalē in the New Testament. This is because the word kephalē does not usually mean leader or authority; there are plenty of other Greek words which have that function.

      Kephalē is used exclusively for Jesus, and twice for men, in the Pauline letters. We need to find out why Paul used this word in the various passages. And we need to think in Greek, not in English, to find the answer.

      In regards to your comment about the Trinity: I absolutely believe that the Triune God was the “source” or “originator” of the Messiah.

      The angel answered and said to [Mary], “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35 cf Matthew 1:18, 20, 23).

      • Bryn says:

        Thanks for your quick and detailed response!

        After reading some of Grudem’s analysis of Chrysostom he writes, regarding Chyrostom’s usage of kephale

        “Conclusion on Chrysostom’s use of kephale Chrysostom uses kephale to say that
        one person is the “head” of another in at least six different relationships:
        (1) God is the “head” of Christ;
        (2) Christ is the “head” of the church;
        (3) the husband is the “head” of the wife;
        (4) Christ is the “head” of all things;
        (5) church leaders are the “head” of the church; and
        (6) a woman is the “head” of her maidservant. In all six cases, he uses language of rulership and authority to explain the role of the “head,” and uses language of submission and obedience to describe the role of the “body.””

        This quote features in Grudem’s response to Catherine Kroeger who claimed that Chrysostom and other influential early church members (basically all the ones that you mention Payne discussed) believed that kephale meant “source” not “head”. If you haven’t read it already I recommend checking it. I haven’t read it all myself but am currently working my way through it and would be interested on your thoughts on it, as it seems to be directly challenging one of the biggest supporting claims for our interpretation of kephale. I found a pdf of it here: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/kephale.pdf

        As to why Paul uses kephale exclusively for Jesus and men, I would say my simple reading of it is that it’s a basic illustration (I think we can see Paul likes his body part illustrations!). As the only comparison of kephale regarding the relationship of men and women is the usage of kephale regarding the relationship between Jesus and God the Father. As we know from Matthew 26, John 6, 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 2 etc Jesus submits to God’s authority even though the two are equal in deity. As this passage confirms the relationship/roles of God the Father and Jesus that we already understand and applies it to the relationship/roles of men and women I find it hard to interpret a key word in a way that then makes it read differently to what we already partially know. I guess I might be applying a bit of Occam’s Razor to this passage however…

        A few general questions I’ve been thinking about as I read your articles and would like to ask:

        1. Do you believe God the Father has authority of Jesus? Do you believe Jesus submits to God’s authority?

        2. Do you believe authority to indicate increased value/importance/superiority? Basically, is authority bad?

        3. Do you think it’s possible for men and women to be equal (in importance, value and likeness of God) but have different roles in ministry?

        Thanks very much 😀

        • Donald Johnson says:

          If one is going to study Grudem on the complementarian position on kephale, then one also should study at least Cervin on the egalitarian position. A Berean really needs to study both sides in their own words.

          If you do that, you can see that Grudem is much too triumphalistic in his pronouncements and mostly sees what he wants to see.

          Here is a recent meta-study of the kephale debate, the Bibliography gives pointers to all the relevant papers.

          On your questions, I will respond for myself.

          1) While on earth, Jesus obeyed the Father. Apart from that, I see 2 ways the relations in the Godhead are expressed, (1) as God’s will (if there is only one will, it is not a question of obeying an authority over one) and as mutual love and submission to one another.

          2) Authority is not bad in and of itself. It is bad when it is seen as existing where it does not exist according to Scripture. Parents have authority over their kids in order to do good for them, this is because kids grow in competence.

          3) Equal in being but not equal in function is a concept that does not make sense when analyzed. It especially does not make sense in a Hebrew mindset where one sees what one is by what one does.

        • Marg says:

          Hi Bryn,

          I’ll have a go at answering your questions.

          (1) I believe that Jesus submitted to both God the Father and to the Holy Spirit (Matt. 4:1) while he was on earth and was “made a little lower than the angels.” However, I believe that the members of the Trinity (with Jesus being ascended) have the exact same will – there are not three competing wills – and so there is no need for one member to submit to the will of another member. (I’ve written about this here and here.)

          (2a) If authority is only offered to, or only possible for, a certain sector of society then, indeed, that sector of society has more importance and a degree of superiority. We see this dynamic in many societies where caste systems, apartheid, or gender discrimination means that people of certain castes, races, and/or women are completely excluded from higher and more privileged positions and roles in society.

          (2b) Authority can be good or bad, and everything in between. I believe that, in the church, the Holy Spirit equips and authorises people to function in certain ministries, but he does not give one person authority over other capable adults. I really think we need to get rid of the word “over” when speaking about a healthy authority. There is no word for “over” in the Greek in verses about ministry and church leadership. (I’ve written more about authority in the church here.)

          Authority is bad and unhealthy when immature, selfish or incapable people are given authority to do something they are unfit for. Authority is good and healthy when a capable and wise person is authorised to function in a certain and limited capacity.

          (3) I think we all have different roles in life and in ministry, and that these roles change. My own experience, and my observation of others, are that our roles change regularly as we go through different seasons, acquire new abilities, and as we mature and (hopefully) grow in wisdom. Apart from the role of male and female in procreation, I do not know of any roles that are exclusively male or exclusively female. The Bible has numerous examples of godly men and women who were involved in all kinds of activities and ministries and situations, at all levels of society. Typically, some of these roles are considered as being more important and more valuable than others.

          I know that some Hierarchical Complementarians regard submission as a role. I regard submission, humility, and deference as virtues for all Christians (e.g. Eph. 5:21; Phil. 2:3ff).

          P.S. I did not find Grudem’s article on Chrysostom’s use of kephalē especially pertinent. I want to know how 1st century people used kephalē, not someone writing in the late 4th century unless they’re directly commenting on 1 Cor. 11:3. When Chrysostom does comment on 1 Cor. 11:3 he does not speak about authority but about sameness of substance. Also, I do not quote Kroeger in my articles about the possible meanings of kephalē. However, I have used her information, selectively, for a couple of other topics.

          • Bryn says:

            Thanks for your thoughts guys!

            I’ll check that meta-analysis out soon thanks Donald – will give me some (more) holiday reading.

            1) Kind of responding to both of your thoughts – what do you think of these passages regarding Jesus submission to God the Father:

            a) Philippians 2:11 – “…every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Ultimately the glory is directed to God the Father, and this is also how Christ is best glorified, but it still seems to establish some sort of functional hierarchy? Jesus does all these things in Philippians 2 to ultimately glorify God the Father.

            b) Colossians 1:16 – “…for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see–such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.”

            c) 1 Corinthians 15:28 – “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” – in your piece on the trinity and marriage you say we can’t really know what this means – on face value at least this passage seems to confirm an idea of Jesus’ submission, and as that is already an existing concept from his lifetime (as you say too) then I don’t think it’s a stretch to understand this in a bigger sense. As you say, the trinity is a mystery – how can we know that different levels of authority are in any way a bad thing within the trinity?

            d) Matthew 28:18 – “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” – it seems a bit pointless for Jesus to have complete authority in heaven, become human, receive his authority back then keep on with his ministry. I think to argue that in this verse is to read into it quite heavily…

            c) John 5:22 – “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” – as Jesus has already ascended to God’s right hand why does the role of Judgment need to be entrusted to him? If he was only subordinate on earth then when he returns to God’s side surely he can entrust himself with this role?

            e) John 6:38 – “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” – if they had equal authority in heaven why does Jesus make the distinction that he came down to do God’s will and not his own? As you say, surely their will is a unified thing (which I believe) but Jesus still deliberately mentions this act of submission…

            f) John 8:42b – “…for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me” – another indication of their roles being different before Jesus came to earth.

            I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on these passages!

            2a) I think your examples here are largely earthly examples, and as such, should obviously reflect a sinful and distorted picture of leadership. I also think that limiting leadership to certain groups does not necessarily create added importance or superiority. I believe that as sinful humans we elevate leaders to a higher status but as we see in Galatians 3 we see that God views both masters and slaves the same – they have very different degrees of what we would label “superiority” or “importance” but God doesn’t see our sinful prejudices and persuasions – all being made in God’s likeness we are all equally image-bearers of Him; equal in importance and value.

            Your examples of apartheid and caste systems are examples which are seriously loaded with sinful motivations – apartheid didn’t occur because one group had leadership over another group – apartheid occurred due to the sinful leadership and exercising of power one group over another. What if the group that had leadership used that to share resources, promote love and acceptance and seek to serve those they were leading. I think we would end up in a situation that would be better than if all groups had shared leadership – I think it would be a beautiful thing, but sadly due to our sinfulness people rule harshly and unjustly. Think of Jesus’ leadership of mankind – wouldn’t you love your teacher (at school/uni or church), your boss, your MP and Prime Minister to demonstrate that sort of leadership – a willingness to lay their life down for you. A servant-hearted leadership is truly a beautiful thing.

            3) Observation and experience are dangerous things to rely upon – as you say “…roles change regularly as we go through different seasons, acquire new abilities, and as we mature and (hopefully) grow in wisdom.” I have sinful urges that constantly develop and change. Just because a person develops something naturally doesn’t mean it’s a good thing they should pursue. I very naturally fall into sexual temptation and I believe many men share that same problem but just because I have a natural flair for it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t in fact flee from it (as hard as that may be) and seek to live differently. It seems in Christian circles there are certain urges we are prone to naturally accept and condone despite knowing fully that our natural persuasion is more often sinful than righteous…

            Also, regarding the Grudem article – I pointed it out because in your article you use Philip Payne’s work as some of the main support for interpreting kephale as “source” rather than “head”. Now Payne seems to claim that all these early church leaders understood kephale to mean “source”, as weight for his argument, but Grudem here basically analyses the works of all of these leaders and argues that they don’t think that at all. Basically, it seems Kroeger and Payne are piggy-backing on an idea and here Grudem is returning to the source material (the writings of these early church leaders) in greater depth (reading more than 1 sentence of Chrysostom’s works basically shows he does not understand kephale to mean “source”). It’s pertinent because from your article one of your biggest reasons for believing kephale to be interpreted as “source” comes from Payne, and is therefore quite shaky at best. I’m not saying this means “You’re wrong about everything!!!” but merely that this point doesn’t seem to rest on solid evidence. As this point then leads to the conclusion “When we understand that “head” (kephalē) means source, Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 becomes easier to understand” I believe you haven’t argued your case that well in this instance – you may want to revise this source (and come up with better ones – who knows?).

            I think I must explain too – I probably come across as quite attacking in my posts, but I think to best think through any issue and challenge and refine any idea is to approach it with as much intellectual vigour as I can. I am truly interested in coming to a strong Biblical understanding of men and women and I’ve found your site very helpful so far in engaging with both sides of the debate 🙂

          • Marg says:

            Hi Bryn,

            I do not pretend to have a full or concrete understanding of the relationships and dynamics within the Trinity. No one does except God. I have explained my views of Jesus’s relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit to the best of my ability in my articles which you’ve already read. So what is your point in asking me about these passages? I have no intention of writing an essay merely to gratify you.

            I have also answered your previous questions honestly and to the best of my ability, but your response indicates that my answers were not to your satisfaction.

            I agree that caste systems and apartheid are sinful systems, so is patriarchy. Any social system where one group of people has greater privileges, powers and freedoms, while another group of people is denied these same rights, simply on the basis of family background, race, or sex, is unjust.

            Even when the leadership of the more powerful caste, or class, or race, or sex is benign or helpful, the system is still unjust. People should be seen for who they are, and not pigeon-holed because of their station at birth or sex. Christians especially have a duty, and should be free, to use their talents and God-given gifts, and not have to hide them away because of social mores (Matthew 25:14-30).

            I have no problem with healthy authority. Authority and submission are simply part of our daily lives in a well-ordered society. However, I think “servant-leader” is a strange and contrived term. Everything a Christian does should stem from love and service, not just leadership. We don’t add the adjective “servant” to other ministries and roles, so why add it to “leadership”? I am not a “servant-mother” or a “servant-teacher”. People should just get on with the jobs they have been given and called to do, and do it with compassion, humility, and wisdom.

            You seem to think that I am speaking about sin in my answer to question 3. There is nothing sinful about being a toddler, or a girl, or a student, or a wife, or a mother, or a grandmother, or a teacher, or whatever stage I am in. There is nothing sinful about any of my different roles and situations in life, and there is nothing sinful about the valuable lessons I have learned, with the Holy Spirit – as my constant companion and guide – in each of these different stages. My observations and experiences are completely different from your sexual urges. It is insulting and weird that you would somehow associate my mention of positive observations and experience with your negative sexual urges. I am very grateful for what I have learned from experience and observation. We are on VERY different wavelengths.

            If you really want to understand what I think, here and here are two articles that may be helpful.

          • Bryn says:

            Hi Marg,

            I agree the Trinity is ultimately unknowable in our current state but I also believe we can learn a lot about it from the Bible (which you also agree and mention elsewhere). I shared those passages because they seem to directly relate to Jesus’ submission to God the Father which I believe is a central element in understand concepts of authority and submission in the Bible (and in our lives). As you hadn’t mentioned some of the passages I quoted (and made brief comments on) in your articles on the trinity I was interested in hearing your thoughts on them and how that might help us understand whether Jesus was on submitting to God on earth alone or whether he submits to God’s authority eternally.

            Regarding my responses, I am merely challenging some of your ideas – in any discussion I think it’s very normal to challenge each others ideas to help us arrive at either stronger convictions of our existing ideas or new convictions. I’m not saying “They aren’t satisfactory. End of discussion”, but rather “I don’t fully agree/understand/see the connection etc – let’s keep discussing”.

            2a) Arguments about being “pigeon-holed” sit on precarious grounds however. What if this same argument is applied to gender in general? Many people in our modern society don’t like being pigeon-holed as male or female, so they choose their own gender or do away with gender completely. I disagree that God-ordained differences are unjust – firstly, justice is before God and God alone. We aren’t owed anything by God, and have already rebelled against his righteous rule so are automatically on the wrong side of his justice. Was it unjust for God to choose Abraham and his people to be his chosen race? Was it unjust for God to choose the Levites to carry out special religious duties? Is it inherently unjust for God to limit certain roles to men and certain roles to women? I really find it hard to see how we can say yes to this without taking an earthly view of justice. Once again – I’m not dismissing your point – if you can show me that it is unjust for God to do this then I’ll be happy to deeply consider it – but as I said before, your examples of unjustness come from clearcut examples that anyone would label as unjust – I’m not convinced by your statement: “Even when the leadership of the more powerful caste, or class, or race, or sex is benign or helpful, the system is still unjust.” Basically, where is your definition of justice coming from?

            2b) I get the concept of Servant-Leadership from Christ, largely in Philippians 2 but also just from his words and actions. I think any leader is called to emulate Christ in this – as they lead they are called to serve, just like Jesus in John 13, washing the feet of the disciples. I agree that service and love should characterise the lives of Christians, leadership being one of those things. I think the term “servant-leadership” is necessary because it is one area where it is really easy for people to forget that leaders aren’t any different before God than anyone else. We can idolise leaders very easily, whereas we are less likely to put a great mother or mentor on a pedestal and idolise them. Being an upfront position I think leadership needs a constant reminder of it’s duty to serve – “servant-leadership” can be a practical and helpful phrase to use in churches I think.

            3. I apologise for not explaining myself well enough on this last point – it’s clear we have misunderstood each other – I’ll try to be a bit clearer with what I was meaning.

            What you initially said was this “My own experience, and my observation of others, are that our roles change regularly as we go through different seasons, acquire new abilities, and as we mature…”

            What I reduced this to (perhaps wrongly) is that often our skills or abilities naturally and organically change. What I do not like about this is the emphasis (perhaps I read into this again) that something that arises naturally is good. An example that came to mind as I responded to you was an article I read recently that was written by a woman which said “How can my skills in and desire to teach not be from God?” As this skill/desire/calling has come about so naturally and seemingly purely then how can it possibly be a bad thing? My big issue is that when it comes to gifts, we tend to employ this argument without any problem BUT when it comes to things that are clearly sinful we reject this exact same reasoning. A homosexual reasons that because they naturally felt attraction to the same-sex then it cannot possibly be a bad thing. This does not however justify homosexual behaviours, even though they came about naturally – even seemingly from God (“This is how God created me” – we hear so often). My connection to my own (or anyone’s) personal sinful temptations or pitfalls is that even though they might arise naturally from our sinful nature we don’t use this as evidence to support its goodness.

            As you observe people develop abilities and skills, including women developing a passion and ability to lead, this in itself is not solid reason to support the goodness of women in leadership. I don’t doubt that these abilities and desires come up naturally for many women, but the existence of natural flair and persuasion doesn’t make something ok, in just the same way as a natural persuasion to homosexuality or lust or greed isn’t good. My basic argument here is that a natural persuasion does not necessarily indicate a good one. I hope that clarifies my point a bit…

          • Donald Johnson says:

            If you want answers to your questions, you can find answers in the general egalitarian books, such as Discovering Biblical Equality or Payne’s Man and Woman: One in Christ.

            It is much easier to ask a question than to answer it and when someone asks a barrage of questions without giving their own answers, I wonder what their goal is.

            Here are some ways to try to wear the egal “hat” and see if it might fit.

            1) When God is indicated in Scripture, this does not necessarily mean the Father, it can also mean the Godhead.

            2) As I mentioned before, I see Scripture discussing the relations in the Godhead in 2 ways, one of God’s will which is singular so there is no hierarchy even possible and the other is via mutual love and submission.

            I think the idea of servant leaders as commonly taught gets some things wrong. All believers are to serve. All humans are sinners and therefore obedience to any human is never absolute, a believer is to obey God rather than a human if the two are in conflict. In the Kingdom, leaders lead mainly by example and by having greater wisdom which is then sought out; it is not top down dominance deciding for another. This is especially true for Jesus, he let people make their own decisions and reap the consequences, good or bad.

            Natural gifts and spiritual gifts are both from God.

            On Payne and really anyone else, I find there are some things that are great explanations and other things that are not convincing for me at least. Which is why I try to read widely from both sides in their own words in the gender debate.

          • Bryn says:

            Sorry for not replying for ages Donald – bit preoccupied over Summer then I just forgot about it till now.

            Thanks for your recommendations of some books – I will hopefully get onto reading them eventually!

            As for some of your thoughts – what about the passages I posted where it seems to clearly outline some form of functional hierarchy between God the Father and Jesus, such as John 5:22 and Philippians 2? What do you make of these?

          • Donald Johnson says:

            LEB Joh 5:22 For the Father does not judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son,
            Joh 5:23 in order that all people will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

            How do I understand this? By the intended objective, so that both Father and Son are honored. Also, if the Father does God’s will in judging and the Son does God’s will in judging, how could they be different?

            On Phil 2, Jesus humbled himself to become human, while human he was an example for us and obeyed the Father.

  32. Marg says:

    I’m posting this quote here because there is some resonance with Adichie’s words with an authentic understanding of the chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-11. The first part of the chiasm is an incomplete and limited picture of gender. The second part of the chiasm is a more complete and accurate picture. Moreover, too many Christian have just one story or one idea about so-called gender roles, whereas the Bible shows us that many women were involved in all kinds of activities and ministries.

    Words of wisdom from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

    In her excellent TED talk, “The danger of a single story,” Adichie discusses how “Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories… and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.” To watch her talk, visit http://bit.ly/U5t0Hy

    • Bryn says:

      Thanks for the response Marg – sorry I took so long to reply.

      I think this is getting to the heart of the issue, however from what I’ve seen it still seems very easily swayed in either direction.

      Although this is an isolated passage it doesn’t require much to read it in the contexts of Genesis 1-3 (and 5), 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 to develop a complementarian perspective. To take the general trend of male headship throughout the Bible isn’t a big stretch either, as taken from Adam to Christ, with many prophets, Kings and priests adding weight to an idea of male headship, with some rare cases of women undertaking similar roles (ie, Deborah). Your 25 examples are paramount in detailing the large variety of ways that women can serve in the church and in their lives, but I find it hard to use any of them to argue against the weight of the rest of scripture regarding male headship.

      I understand I still have much more reading to do on this issue but the image slowly being painted in my mind is a much more complementarian one than egalitarian.

      Thanks very much for your blog though – it has been extremely helpful for me in understanding this whole issue much more deeply, and while I don’t agree with all your conclusions it has definitely given me a broader understanding of the actions and roles of women throughout the Bible.

      • Marg says:

        I think much of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 alludes to Genesis 2, hence the context of source or origin. I don’t see much a correspondence with 1 Cor. 14:34-35 though. (Have you seen my most recent post? It’s about 1 Cor. 11:9.)

        Male “headship” is mentioned twice in the Bible. It is mentioned for the first time in 1 Cor. 11. This hardly justifies the phrase “the weight of Scripture regarding male headship”.

        If by male headship you mean patriarchy, however, then it is hardly surprising that we see that throughout history most rulers were men, rather than women. Immediately after the fall God said that woman would be ruled by man (Gen 3:16). Patriarchy was the norm in Israel as well as in most thoroughly pagan nations. There is nothing intrinsically godly about patriarchy.

        As a Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:18ff), living under the New Covenant, I take my cues for living mostly from New Testament principles and precedents.

        We need to use Old Testament principles and precedents with caution. I am not an Israelite, and I am not bound by previous Covenants. I am a New Creation (2 Cor 5:16-17). Moreover, I believe that patriarchy is a consequence of sin.

  33. […] The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 […]

  34. […] The overall context of the entire passage of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is about origins and appropriate behaviour in corporate worship.   It is not necessarily about marriage. More on this passage here. […]

  35. […] Another pushback I hear is the concern for women to have a “spiritual covering”. When I started to look into where this phrase came from, I struggled to find a source. The best I could come up with was either Ephesians 5, where the head-body metaphor might have been transferred into a spiritual covering concept; or 1 Corinthians 11, where women are told they need head coverings and men do not. (A great exegesis on 1 Corinthians 11 can be found here.) […]

  36. Darryl says:

    I apologize if someone else brought this up in the conversation string. I haven’t had time to read them all. But is it possible that Paul is prohibiting men from covering their heads? From what I understand, it was a common liturgical practice for Roman men to cover their heads when sacrificing to gods.

    Unless I am mistaken, Julius “re-founded” Corinth as a Roman colony.

    So, it the text a comment on what is appropriate for women or is it more a commentary on what is inappropriate for men?

    • Marg says:

      Good question. Most people zoom in on what this passage says about the women of Corinth, but they don’t pay as much attention to what it says about the men.

      I believe that Paul’s instructions in this passage are about preserving gender distinctions during worship services. At the same time, Paul also maintains that men and women have the same source – God, and this gives them an intrinsic equality. Here’s a paragraph from the article:

      “There are some indications within First Corinthians that the Christians in Corinth thought that the Kingdom age had fully arrived and that gender distinctions were no longer important. It appears that the Corinthian Christians likened themselves to the genderless angels. But Paul wanted the Corinthians to preserve some gender distinctions. He did not want the men to have long hair or braids, which some effeminate men were wearing at the time; and he did not want the women to look like men with short hair. Or it could be that Paul did not want women to appear as though they were sexually promiscuous, with flowing unbound hair like the maenads in the worship of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. In New Testament times, a woman with either short hair or long unbound hair was making a provocative statement, and Paul did not want the Corinthians to unnecessarily behave in culturally inappropriate ways.”

  37. […] The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16  […]

  38. […] The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 […]

  39. Ben says:

    Have you read Alan Padgett’s book ‘As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission’? There’s an awesome chapter in there that makes the argument that Paul is in fact arguing *against* head coverings. I’m convinced that he’s onto something here, especially that some of this difficult passage are quotations of the Corinthians argument *for* head coverings.

    There’s a decent summary of the main arguments of the chapter here:


    Thanks for all of your hard work!

  40. Mackenzie says:

    I need to read through the rest of these comments, but I just wanted to share one thing about my own head covering while being egalitarian. Because it says to cover when praying and prophesying, I regard my head cover as a symbol of my authority as a woman to prophecy. Many men would deny women this authority, but Paul gave us a visible statement of it.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Mackenzie, Many women also deny the authority gifted women have to prophesy and pray aloud in church too.

      When you say “head covering” do you mean your hair?

  41. […] The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 […]

  42. […] Paul nullifies any significance of the created order in the second part of the chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, particularly for us who are “in the Lord”. (More about this chiasm here.) Nevertheless, some maintain that the created order somehow disqualifies every woman from teaching and leading any man for all time. […]

  43. […] The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 […]

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